Discovery In The Cove

I say I’m not very good at once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I justify spending money to do something by saying, “I’m only going to do it once,” but I am rarely successful in limiting myself to one time if I enjoy an experience.

I proved this point yet again by visiting Discovery Cove, Sea World’s dolphin-centric sister park in Orlando. I visited the park for the first time last year. The experience blew my mind. I had such a great time, I actually wrote two separate blog posts about my playdate with the porpoises. You can catch a rerun of those posts by visiting:

My Date With The Dolphins

School Of Dolphins

Even though my dolphin day at Discovery Cove was beyond my wildest expectations, my initial thought was that I probably wouldn’t do it again. There is a steep discount on the admission for Florida residents. Still, I did suffer a bit of sticker shock when the ticket price showed up on my credit card. The amount just seemed ridiculous for a day at a theme park. On the other hand, the admission gets you a lot for your money and there is a pretty low limited daily entrance to the park. You never feel like you are fighting the marauding hordes for your entertainment or for any of the “free” (well…. let’s say “included in the price of admission”) goodies they hand out with wild abandon (meals, snacks of every ilk, soft drinks, frozen beverages, beer, wine, dolphin safe sunscreen, towels, snorkeling gear, showers, shampoo, conditioner, and other stuff that I’m probably forgetting). Also, the admission price includes unlimited admission for fourteen days to Sea World and the other sister park, Aquatica.

You can probably tell that I am still trying to justify my decision to pay the big bucks and return to the park this year. Since I went ahead and did it, it is probably time to let it go.

Once I made my reservation, I began to wonder if my second trip to Discovery Cove would be as magical as my previous visit. Was it possible to enjoy the experience as much once the serendipity factor no longer applied? I remember that, on my first trip, it seemed like some unexpected, delightful surprise lurked around every corner. Now that I knew the drill, would these encounters fail to enchant me? Also, last time, my Discovery Cove trip came at a particularly difficult and stressful time in my life. In fact, I’d cancelled my original reservation because it was scheduled when my mother’s stroke was still a new and stultifying situation. By the time I actually went, my mother and I had already been through most of our difficult journey together. She had been living in the skilled nursing facility for about five months. We were past the point of believing she was going to improve and not yet at the point where death prepared to pounce. We were both living in a shadow world and trying to light the way for each other. I’m sure the fact that my first trip to Discovery Cove propelled me totally away from Stroke World for one, beautiful, restful day enhanced my first experience.

When I packed up for my recent excursion, I was a little apprehensive. Maybe it was better to live with my perfect memory of my “once in a lifetime” Discovery Cove adventure rather than risk overlaying it with another trip that might not be as wonderful. Then, I considered that I am trying to broaden my horizons by being braver and less anxious. I am trying to embrace the now rather than living in the past or obsessing about the future. I am trying to stop automatically saying “no” to things simply because they make me a little uneasy. So I said “yes” to myself and went to Discovery Cove.

The activities I enjoyed at Discovery Cove were very similar to my prior visit. I swam with the dolphins, snorkeled in the salt water reef, waded past marmosets and otters, fed birds in the aviary, and lounged my way down a lazy river. I spent hours and hours in the water. I ambled aimlessly around the beautiful grounds, sliding my feet through the elegant sand beaches and splashing around the edges of the coves. I ate and drank and read my kindle. I shopped in the little stores. I stayed even longer than I stayed last year. And I enjoyed every moment of it.

On one of my numerous trips down the lazy river, I floated behind a family with two small children. As I passed them, I heard the little girl exclaim, “Mommy, this is the best day ever!” I closed my eyes, listened to the birds chattering around me, snuggled my shoulders deeper under the gently warm water, and felt the sun skip across my face. I smiled and thought to myself, “it sure is.”

That spontaneous reaction started me thinking. Was it the best day ever? How could it be better than my last trip? Was it better than my last trip? Wasn’t it the same experience?

In purely objective terms, I could argue that this visit might not have been quite as good as my first visit. The dolphin assigned to my pod was a bit of a maverick and wasn’t really in the mood to play host to a bunch of strangers that day. Her dolphin ADHD required some patience and creativity. It was a bit chaotic. Also, the sloth I went to visit at the animal encounter kiosk was not able to overcome his slothful DNA and rouse himself from his crate, so there was no small furry animal petting on this visit. Also, I forgot my credit card and worried that I would be unable to purchase merchandise to take home. I also lost my brand new sparkly prescription sunglasses somewhere in the depths of the snorkeling reef.

Still, I had a wonderful time and I am not even going to pretend that I don’t want to go back next year. So, what was different this time that made my visit a new, magical event despite the minor glitches I’ve mentioned?

It is true that the activities were basically the same as last year, but the difference is that I am not the same as last year. I am much further along in my journey to improve my capacity to enjoy life as it comes and embrace new adventures without mourning what they are not. I am more confident. My heart is more open. My brain is calmer. I even embraced the glitches. I didn’t just tolerate them; I leveraged them.

I may not have been able to pet a sloth this time around, but I had a new experience. I held a macaw on my arm. That was pretty cool. Instead of worrying about the scheduling short circuiting while my dolphin played keep away, I enjoyed the extra time in the cool saltwater surrounded by a whole navy of dolphins. When I realized that I had forgotten my credit card, I stopped to strategize about how I could overcome the problem. In the past, I know I would have panicked, mournfully declaring immediate defeat. I would have been all woebegone over my inability to buy stuff. This time, I remained calm and brainstormed some ways I might still be able to charge merchandise. In doing so, I figured out how to use Apple Pay. While the loss of my sunglasses was a little more difficult to push away from my overactive nervous system, I was able to do so. I remembered that these glasses were the same prescription as my old ones, which were in the glove compartment of my car. I didn’t love that I lost the glasses, but it was not a tragedy. As if to reward my determined Zen-ness, someone found my sunglasses and returned them to Lost and Found by the end of the day.

So even though my day’s activities were pretty much the same during both my visits, each visit was a very different experience. Both were the “best day ever” while I was living them. Maybe this most recent visit felt even more like the “best day ever” because I have changed enough to immerse myself more deeply in the present moment.

Nothing is ever exactly the same. The earth keeps turning and the soul keeps growing. I think every experience is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What do you think?  Have you ever done something that seemed very different than a time when you did it before because you were different?  Please tell us about it!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a one-of-a-kind day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!  If you would like a second helping of Terri, I am guest posting on another retirement lifestyle blog this week. If you’d like to read my post, The Dream Is In The Doing,  please visit:

http://retirementandgoodliving.com/the-dream-is-in-the-doing/